Do Yer Worst, Ye Scurvy, Book-Piratin’ Dogs!

You’re an inexperienced writer; you finally get a book accepted and published. Now some pirate website is giving your book away free, and paying you nothing. What do you do about it?

A modern book pirate’s treasure chest

Before I answer that, what exactly is a book pirate, and how do their sites work? A book pirate takes your ebook (or scans your print book and converts it to .pdf) and gives it away to anyone who wants to download it. They don’t pay you or your publisher. This is illegal.

Giving away the product doesn’t sound like a successful business plan, does it? They do sell advertising on those sites; that’s how they make their money. Some may not care about earning money at all; they may believe information should be free in this Age of the Internet.

When my first story was published, I set up a search engine alert to inform me when that story title was mentioned anywhere on the web, and I’ve done this for every subsequent published story. Much to my surprise, about half of these mentions turned out to be on pirate websites.

The first time, I got angry and wondered what I could do about it. There are steps you can take, but emailing notifications followed by legal warnings can get time-consuming, and may not cause the pirate to quit giving away your book.

The funniest case was when the anthology Avast, Ye Airships!, in which my story “A Clouded Affair” appeared, was pirated. Yes, a book about pirates fell victim to piracy. I wonder if the web pirates even noticed the irony themselves.

Again, how do you respond to this villainy? I know the pirates deserve to be keelhauled, whipped with a cat-o’-nine-tails, and forced to walk the plank. But how do you find the low-life, hook-handed, parrot-toting rapscallions? And where do you get a fully equipped sailing ship?

In the real world, your response depends on your level of anger about piracy, your available time to send repeated e-mail warnings, your level of tolerance for frustration, and your willingness to take on a cause that (while moral and right) has only a tiny chance of succeeding.

If you’re a first-time author, the pirates may be doing you a favor. Hard to believe, I know, but follow my reasoning. At this early point in your writing adventure, exposure is more important to you than earnings. That pirate represents one more website mentioning you and your book, one more website popping up in internet searches of topics related to your book, one more website’s worth of evidence you’re an established author.

You’re still not buying that, I can tell. How about this; try the Genie Test. (I know, genies and pirates—mixing genres. Just go with it.) Author Robert Kroese introduced the Genie Test in a guest-post on Joanna Penn’s website. Suppose you rub a magic lamp and a Genie materializes. (I’m visualizing Barbara Eden.) She offers to download your ebook on one million e-readers, but you won’t earn a cent. She’s ready to cross her arms and nod, making the magic happen. Do you stop her, or let her do it?

Think of it—a million Kindles, Nooks, etc., all containing your book. If a small fraction of those people read your book, and a small fraction of them enjoy it enough to read more, that’s still a sizable following, a readership. Isn’t that what you really wanted? Thanks, Jeannie!

I’m not defending book piracy. It’s theft. It’s illegal. It ought to end. (Hey, Jeannie, are you still there? Why not magically end all book piracy while you’re at it?) I’m just suggesting, on your prioritized list of things to fret about, book piracy ought to move down a few places, maybe just above your fears about planet-ending meteor strikes, sharknadoes, and the zombie apocalypse.

That’s why I say, do yer darndest, ye snivellin’ pack o’ book-stealin,’ grog-swillin’ pirates. Ye ain’t gonna stir one hair on the head o’—

Poseidon’s Scribe